Douglas Jackson

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Educator

Douglas Jackson has been an educator for more than a

quarter of a century, working with hearing impaired students

for most of that time. You get the sense that he considers

himself lucky to have had the opportunity to touch the lives

of children who have this physical challenge; you never believe

that he thinks they are lucky to have found him. His

enormous enthusiasm for his work is somewhat surprising

for a guy who has been teaching for more than 25 years. But

when you talk to him, you know it’s the real thing.

Jackson has been employed by the El Paso Regional Day

School Program for the Deaf since 1995. He was recognized

in 1994 by the Florida Law Related Education Association as

its statewide Teacher of the Year, in 1998 as the statewide

Deaf Education Teacher of the Year in Texas, and in 2000 as

a Disney American Teacher Award honoree. He considers

himself a work in progress. His purpose was and is to benefit

and enrich the education of his gifted students. He doesn’t

see obstacles, only potential.

Douglas Jackson

Make the Connections Between

What Could Be and What Is

. . . it is true that all kids are like snowflakes and that no two children

have identical gifts, talents, hopes, interests, and personalities.

Sometimes in a teacher’s life it happens, moments when

it all comes together. The planets line up, the basketball

Source: Printed with permission from George Douglas Jackson,

teacher.

dances around the hoop before it plunges through, and a

group of students soar out of the box together hand in hand.

I was fortunate enough to witness one such transcendent

moment this past week when my fifth grade homeroom students

delivered their PowerPoint presentation on the needs

of deaf people in our system of justice to the assembled membership

of the El Paso Bar Association. I mean, they were

signing it, speaking it, role-playing it, living it, and nailing it.

With wit, energy, enthusiasm, rubber faces capable of communicating

a wide range of subtle nuances and determination,

they marched onto this adult turf (a suit-and-tie luncheon at

a posh restaurant) and by means of their presentation escorted

the audience into their world, a world in which the constitutional

and other legal protections afforded to deaf victims,

defendants, jurors, and lawyers in what can be frightening

and devastating legal situations are only as good as the communication

bridges (especially interpreters) that are provided.

And with this same wit, energy, talent, enthusiasm, and determination,

they walked their audience back into their own

world of writs and motions. They bowed toward an audience

still laughing and still smiling, but also still absorbing what

they had seen and heard . . . and, I hope, ready to make their

corner of the world better and more accessible. That is the

wonder of working with students like this. More about that in

a moment; I am getting ahead of myself.

My name is Douglas Jackson. I am a teacher. I have always

loved art, drama, language, learning new things, sharing

ideas, and collaborating with like-minded people. I became a

teacher because I knew that it could be the intersection of all

of those interests and passions. In 1977 I was attending the

University of Northern Colorado, where I was pursuing a degree

in Social Studies Education and was beginning to see the

light at the end of the tunnel. But I needed a place to live. At

this time a group of UNC Deaf Education majors, having ob-

served the way in which foreign language majors in language

immersion dorms were benefiting from the opportunity to

live, eat, breathe, and dream their respective languages 24/7,

decided that the same approach might help them acquire

sign language skills more naturally, comprehensively, and effectively.

They rented a house and dubbed it “The Sign Inn.”

They only had one problem; they realized that they would

have to advertise for one more housemate or they would never

make that month’s rent. Responding to that ad changed my

life. A few years later I earned a Master’s degree from the University

of Rochester–National Technical Institute for the Deaf

Joint Educational Specialist Program.

I began my trek up what would be a rather steep learning

curve by teaching deaf high school students in Tallahassee,

Florida. Our numbers were high because of the “Rubella Bubble.”

Many of my students had lost their hearing because they

had contracted rubella as babies or because their mothers had

contracted it during pregnancy. In 1985, I started taking courses

in the education of the Gifted and Talented because I had students

who qualified for both Deaf Education and GT services.

When the “Rubella Bubble” burst and the number of hearing

impaired students declined, I began to serve both populations.

I found that the approaches and activities I used with

gifted students often worked well with my deaf students (and

vice versa).

A few words about deaf students. It is true that all kids

are like snowflakes and that no two children have identical

gifts, talents, hopes, interests, and personalities. But in addition

to these traits, our students are unique in other ways.

One student might have a severe loss; another, a profound

one; still another, a progressive one. Some may struggle most

with high frequencies, other with low frequencies. Some may

lose their hearing after an early exposure to spoken language,

while others are deaf from birth. We have students who wear

hearing aids. We have students who have cochlear implants.

The vast majority of our students are born into hearing families

that are unprepared to communicate with them. Some

families learn to communicate. Some do not. Consequently a

lot of our students come into our program with linguistic and

experiential deficits. Some no longer have the expectation

that life is supposed to make any sense to them. Our job then

is to shake them out of their passivity, reawaken their natural

curiosity, and prove to them that this is indeed their world.

But that something about the human spirit and the human

heart that yearns to explore the world and communicate what

it has learned, despite all of the obstacles that might be in

their way, even if that spirit must develop its own approaches

and tools for doing so. Many of my students are relentlessly

curious and creative and have developed ways of understanding

the outside world that are as individual as their own

fingerprints. We don’t have to teach these students to think

outside of the box; they already do. Our job is to help them

master the communication and academic skills they need to

function both inside and outside of the box. Our job is to teach

them to trust themselves, work hard, and make the connections

between what could be and what is.

Over the years we have tried to do just that. I can’t take

credit for helping them find their way out of the box. I hope

that I can continue to give them the skills and opportunities

to make their world better, inside and outside of the box.